This is, to be perfectly honest, one of those posts that should never have to be written but we don’t live in some kind of post-feminist utopia where women are taken seriously as equal participants in anything so I end up having to write this instead of wrapping up the second part of my long awaited series on the female post-crisis batfamily members.
This is a thing that happened. Neither piece represents anything remotely new in terms of the kind of vile attacks that female geeks are subjected to on a daily basis- in this case both from other women- but shit gets real when a female blogger gets targeted with violent language just for daring to attach a signifier of her gender to her blog title. Which is beyond obscene. Before even getting into the whole “hot girls” being geeks thing, I just have to say that these so called commentators have to stop centering hetero-normative masculinity in every single discussion about women and their self identification.
Women- heterosexual identifying or otherwise- do not pause to think of men every time they make a decision. It’s not the real world. That is kyriarchy fantasy land, okay. Give it up. It may come as a surprise, but women do actually think about themselves and each other before men sometimes. It’s a thing that happens quite frequently. Dee and Chantaal, for instance, when they founded this site didn’t really give a shit about what any man had to say when they named it “Girls Read Comics Too.” Their concern, which echoes my own motivations for contributing here, were to reach other women.
Female geeks are essentially members of a vast diaspora. While we don’t have a common physical homeland, we share the feeling of dispersal and isolation that comes from being a group frequently adrift in populations who are indifferent or hostile to us. Being the only female identified geek in any setting can be and frequently is uncomfortable, alienating, and humiliating. What the Internet- and the web 2.0 platform in specific- offers is the potential to connect this vast diaspora into communities for the first time, which is precisely what many of us have done both consciously and subconsciously. Identifying as female in geek spaces online is not comparable to lighting a candle to attract moths- the moths will always gather, intention be damned- it’s firing a flare from a lifeboat for passing planes and boats to see. Occasionally we just want to talk among ourselves in spaces where we can vent our feelings in a setting where there is common ground and mutual respect. I’m not going to claim that female oriented or exclusive spaces are free of other elements of kyriarchal oppression (ableism, racism, classism, cissexism, heterosexism to name a few), but I do want to make it absolutely sparklingly crystal that the assertion of female identity in geek spaces- especially on the Internet- is rarely if ever done with male attention as the primary motivation. We do in fact wish to seek each other out and increase our visibility.
One of the other incredibly important reasons that women raise their voices as women in geek circles is the very ugly and very real erasure and bigotry that we suffer despite our considerable contributions both monetary and otherwise to the various geek communities of which we are a part. In comics, despite the unavoidable presence of female bloggers, readers, and creators there continues to be a strong contingent both within the major companies and the fandom at large who believe that if women are even entitled to participate in the fandom, they should do so on the terms set out for them by the hetero-normative male establishment. Thus we are forced to assert ourselves to remind them we exist and we intend our voices be heard, yet are frequently rewarded with bigotry and threats of violence.
The other side of the issue is the pressure to de-feminize both our engagement with geek culture and our bodies, as highlighted in the Salon piece. In many cases it simply is not enough for women to assimilate into the means by which media is consumed and discussed by the male segment of our fandoms. Our bodies must be policed as well. Women who are considered attractive by heteronormative male standards are to be seen and not heard; consumed as objects and never respected as subjects. For such a woman to speak in her own voice is a heinous crime. Apparently it is outright heresy to believe that Rosario Dawson- who has appeared in three live action and one animated adaptations from comics, collaborated with the highest profile “geeks” in the film industry (Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Miller, Rob Zombie), and co-created her own comic book- is authentic in her self identification as a geek. It’s an outright misogynistic lie. Why shouldn’t any woman confess to enjoying what are by Generation X and Y standards, quite common pursuits? Is it really that difficult to imagine that Mila Kunis, who has appeared in over a hundred episodes of Family Guy and worked on Robot Chicken, may have in fact reached out to explore some part of the geek culture that the characters she plays take part in whether in a professional or recreational capacity? Why isn’t anyone but Warren Ellis mentioning the fact that Helen Mirren wore a t-shirt eulogizing Harvey Pekar to the San Diego Comic Convention?
Behind all the misogyny and body policing of female geeks lies the very simple truth that there is absolutely no dichotomy between femininity and geek culture and women have been engaging with a geek culture of their very own for decades before the gatekeepers of male geek culture decided to validate any kind of female participation in their hallowed pursuits. Where- might I ask- is the line between my Monster High Frankie Stein doll and the Power Girl action figure who stands not six inches away? Mattel is selling an SDCC exclusive Superhero variant Ghoulia Yelps doll this year, and had an exclusive Frankie Stein last year. It’s a completely arbitrary distinction.
Women don’t magically become geeks when they engage in male dominated geek culture. Women become geeks when they apply the geek ethos to whatever they lay their hands on, whether it be fashion, doll collecting, or World of Warcraft and they will bring their feminine sensibilities- however those may manifest themselves- with them. A guy might repaint an action figure with an obscure costume, a girl might do the same or even modify a Barbie doll into her favourite mutant. Not every pursuit and insight that women bring to geek culture will be comfortable to men. It may be difficult to believe, but women don’t exist anywhere to comfort and reinforce male thought.
Attacking and invalidating women who choose feminine identities is an inherently sexist act that seeks to limit the ways in which women are allowed to express themselves, to deny them agency. As part of the dialogue surrounding the two pieces mentioned above, I stumbled into some pretty disgusting criticisms of Team Unicorn, a group of self professed girl geeks whose mission statement includes reversing femme erasure and bashing in geek circles, going so far as to define themselves as not being meant to exist. A specific piece of criticism against their parody of Katy Perry’s California Girls caught my attention. Team Unicorn was, according to one commenter, dressed to appeal to straight men. Again, I have to wonder at why the dialogue surrounding women and their choices has to be viewed through a lens of masculinity. Who is this person to discount queer female desire? When has it ever been a fact that queer women aren’t attracted to conventionally female presenting women? I’ll readily admit to having sexual fantasies about Rachel Maddow, especially when she’s wearing glasses, but I’m no less attracted to Cate Blanchett and why shouldn’t I be? Female sexuality- heterosexual or otherwise- conforms to none but the individual woman’s personal narrative. It’s just one more way that hetero-normative male geek culture seeks to control female participation, their desires must conform to expectation.
If you’re a woman who wants to assimilate into hetero-normative male geek culture, then do you. That’s a valid choice. However, these two pieces- both written by women- are emblematic of a very disturbing phenomenon. Out of some inexplicable need to exercise their sizable internalized misogyny, they attack the perfectly valid choices that other women have made, creating a fog of war around the place of women in geek culture as the misogynist element of the male population latches onto these attacks as validation for their disgusting behaviour. It’s nothing more than women quite willingly underwriting misogyny. It’s not a part of any kind of debate. It’s an ugly and ignorant campaign that has no place in the discourse whatsoever.